I examine fundamental ecological and evolutionary questions in parasite systems and consider my research to be at the interface of ecology, evolution, and genetics. Parasitology provides a rich subject area for studies of ecology and evolutionary biology. Numerous topics such as ecosystem dynamics, mating systems, or coevolution can be addressed because parasites are extremely diverse. By diversity, I include not only the myriad of taxa that have independently evolved a parasitic lifestyle, but also the diversity in life cycles, modes of reproduction, host species, and ecosystems utilized by parasites. This diversity also allows for comparative studies to address theories or unifying principles that span ecosystems or taxonomic groups. Furthermore, there are many practical applications such as studying the evolution of drug resistance, or using parasite community structure to assess “ecosystem health”. My research interests address both basic and applied questions, and span three overlapping subject areas: 1) Genetics and Ecological Genomics, 2) Evolution: Population Genetics, Mating Systems, and Molecular Epidemiology, and 3) Ecology: Biodiversity, Conservation, and Natural History.
Population Genetics, Mating Systems, and Molecular Epidemiology
Little is known about the genetic structure in parasite populations, much less what factors shape these patterns. Genetic structure can influence evolutionary outcomes such as speciation, adaptations to host defenses, and host adaptations to parasite virulence. For parasites of medical, veterinary, or commercial importance, genetic structure has important implications for the evolution of drug resistance and epidemiological models. My research integrates ecological principals in parasitology with population genetics theory to investigate evolutionary mechanisms that affect the genetic variation within and among parasite populations. A practical application that stems from my research is the use of population genetics methods to identify foci of transmission in human parasites (i.e., molecular epidemiology). Elucidation of parasite mating systems (e.g., selfing versus outcrossing) and factors that affect inbreeding in natural populations of parasites are other topics of interest.